How To Break Any Bad Habit
Learning to understand the self is a lot like stirring water in a glass. If we don’t stir, sentiments stay at the bottom of the glass and our water stays polluted.
Take a simple goal: Eat better.
For me, eating always starts with a craving. It's rarely because I’m hungry. Usually I eat out of boredom. Or, on a deeper level, maybe loneliness.
First, the feeling. Then filling that feeling with food.
I imagine what I’m craving. Pizza. I see it. Feel it. I taste the crust and the cheese, and I know exactly where I'd go to get it. I see myself driving there and sitting in the booth eating it. (I am an extremely visual person. In this case, it's not to my advantage.)
Then I become obsessed with this image. Inner conflict begins. Desire vs discipline, Want vs need. I start to reason with myself. I work out hard. I deserve this. It’s not a big deal. What’s a slice? I need to get out of the house anyway.
Reasoning turns into deals. Okay, one slice but I’ll get a salad.
It’s on. The fantasy becomes a reality. I’m now actually sitting at the pizza place. And of course, I always break the deal I made with myself. Three slices and no salad. I eat until I’m stuffed. The Addict, The Liar, the Pseudo Self wins again.
On the way home, I feel guilty about myself and the pizza is never as good as I imagined it.
If I take this process and apply it to other areas of my life, is it the same? Dating? Relationships? If so, are the consequences and feelings the same?
Study patterns in your thoughts and behavior around fitness and nutrition. Chances are, they're the same patterns you apply to other areas of your life. Maybe you maneuver in extremes: Win or lose. If so, do you apply that to work, love, etc.? Do you use food or exercise to reward and punish yourself? If so, do you use work and relationships to reward or punish yourself?
Filtering your cloudy water means breaking patterns you believe are unhealthy. The more you are able to break unhealthy patterns, the cleaner your water will be.
Now, if you’re able to get stronger at rewiring your thoughts and behavior with food cravings and exercise habits, including all the fears you hit while working out, can you apply those new muscles to breaking patterns in other areas of your life?
I believe you can.
1. Know what’s triggering your behavior.
Usually it’s from a feeling.
For me, it was boredom and loneliness.
Pizza was a way of coping or numbing that feeling.
Being aware is the first step.
2. Force yourself to change that behavior.
There will be an internal fight and it will be difficult. But this is where the road can fork. Give yourself other options. I could go on a walk. See a movie. Write. Any behavior that’s different, even if it’s only slightly more healthy. The goal is just to break it. You may not succeed in the beginning. It takes lots of practice. But eventually, if you keep at it, you'll get stronger.
Next time I have a feeling that triggers me, I'll walk around the block and maybe reward myself with fruit, juice, or even a protein bar instead of stuffing my face at a pizza joint.
Now, in relationships, something will trigger the same feeling. You may get into a fight and feel unheard, angry, lonely, etc. Think about your bad habit (your “pizza”) in relationships... Is it to shut down or explode? Well, you can apply the process above to change that behavior, too .
3. Identify the feeling that triggers your behavior.
What’s the feeling? Feeling hurt, unheard, lonely?
4. Focus on addressing that feeling.
Maybe you talk to a friend. Go for a walk. Stay and talk it out. Journal. Call your brother. Exercise? Whatever. Just make sure it’s more healthy. Know that you can do this because you did it with the eating and it will work the same. Remember the results you got from breaking the bad eating behavior and trust that process.
If you’re afraid to do something in the box or at the gym, but you overcome that fear and by doing so, see results, that revelation – that you can overcome a fear and see results can now be applied to confronting your boyfriend, boss, or parents. You may believe one has nothing to do with the other. On the surface, true. But fear is fear. And no matter what door you go in or how you tackle it, the more you conquer it, the more you will be able to conquer it in other areas of your life.
Once you prove to yourself that you can do something you were afraid of, that PROOF – belief – will spill into other areas of thinking.
Imagine fear as the black and white image in a coloring book. The more you color, the more the fear disappears. It doesn’t matter where you start or how you do it, all that matters is that you keep coloring. And the more you color, the more that page will come to life.
So it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about eating better or facing workouts you never thought you could do. Keep stirring to get that water cloudy so that you can then break patterns – filter that water clean in all areas of your life.